Christians are never alone 1 Kings 19 First St Johns June 26, 2016

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We make our beginning in the Name of God the Father and in the Name of God the Son and in the Name of God the Holy Spirit and all those who know they are never alone when they are in Jesus said … AMEN!

This Sunday is to recognize Lutheran Church Extension Fund. In respect to that I do want to talk about what LCEF does in respect to supporting local churches specifically in terms of stewardship. We have really great resources associated with the LCMS, all are very local and sources of funding and support for local congregations. LCEF offers various investment vehicles that are also utilized to provide programs like Consecrated Stewards a program that will help us to grow in our stewardship in a more intentional and regular way. We do have very good resources that I think aren’t really utilized as much as they should, another being Thrivent Financial. Thrivent offers action grants that are available to members to help support outreaches here at First Saint Johns. We have benefited from those programs, if you are a member of Thrivent and haven’t used these programs, please let me know and I will be happy to help you access these programs to benefit the ministries we’re doing here. If you don’t use those gift opportunities, it will be a lost benefit, money left on the table.

The President of Thrivent, Brad Hewitt, wrote a book on stewardship and there is a lot of good advice and insights into our relationship with money. But remember, stewardship is not just about money, it is also about your time and talents too. In this day and age, time is a scarce resource. I’m having plenty of days when I just drag myself home and I can empathize with those who find themselves just running out of time. Having said that, your investment of time and talents, to support the different outreaches we are doing is huge and I pray that in addition to considering increasing your financial support, that you also consider looking at ways that you can invest your time into church activities. Often the return on time and interaction of church members in ministry results in a huge return in terms of helping new members to grow, helping to reach out to prospective church members and in general helping us to benefit and serve those around us.

Mr Hewitt notes that it is often our state of mind, trust issues between us and God about our resources, he writes: “…our research suggests that people are more likely to enjoy a sense of freedom regarding time, energy and money the more they buy into these positive statements: – God meets my needs  -I don’t think about money unless it’s running short. – I don’t often worry about the future, I take each day as it comes. – I give to people in need, even if I barely have enough myself. – I pray about the big decisions in my life. – Deepening my relationship with God helps me feel peaceful about my future.”[1] Mr Hewitt notes “…these attitudes are a gift of God, a sign of His transforming us and building our trust in Him to use His gifts to us to support what the church of Jesus does in the world and to rely on Him to provide for our needs.” Having trusted God myself to go to seminary, where we spent a whole lot of money, God has continued to provide for us even as Marge and I are getting into the later stages of life ourselves. LCEF is very much a ministry of the Lutheran Church and offers many ways, Consecrated Stewards, is one that helps us to be much more intentional of sharing our resources. Dave Stambaugh is our LCEF rep, you can ask one of us for further information.

There are times when it just seems as if things don’t work out as you expected God to do, ministry wasn’t really on our radar and yet God provided for that for Marge and me. The Bible is full of times, where God kind of sprang trust issues on His faithful. When it seems as if God has just left the building and you feel like Wile E Coyote going over a cliff, thinking you’re hanging onto something and then feeling as if the world has just opened up and swallowed you. There are trust issues. I’m sure we’ve all had those times when you’ve put a lot of trust in someone and then they’ve just deserted you and for no apparent reason. We, sinners, we are going to do that, leave someone holding the bag. And while it seems as if God does it to us, He really doesn’t. You needed to be in a situation, played it out to the best of your ability and then realize God really has been in control and is guiding the situation. Like Elijah you’re standing there looking up to heaven, your arms spread out, your mouth kind of hanging open, your heart in your mouth and then…

More and more I’m finding as a pastor the world is intent on ignoring anything God has to say, and expects that whatever they chose to do, God is supposed to bless it and in the end reward them for making themselves their own idol. Hey we all do things that we know, by any standard, is wrong, it’s called sin. But while others make excuses or, worse, justify ungodly behavior, we who are Christians, who know that we are saved by the sacrificial death of Jesus, who are saved to new life in our baptism, who take the true body and blood of Jesus to deliver us from sin, bring us closer to Him and feed our body and soul with the nourishment that we need to be in communion with Him, we know that we cannot make ourselves an idol of worship. We know that we cannot decide what is right and wrong. We know that we can only worship God the Son and not make ourselves our own idol, worshipping our desires and agenda and expect that will be blessed by God the Father. Paul tells us that Christ has set us free, we are not condemned and lost in the yoke of slavery, that is the sin we become enslaved in. Whether it’s our lust that we’ve become subjected to, or the agenda that we’ve decided is the right course of action, but can’t reconcile our agenda with Jesus’. Paul writes: “But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit are against the flesh …” To make sure there’s no question, Paul lists out our idolatry, our lusts and be sure this list is not exhaustive: “Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies…” But we are expected to just ignore that, when people and even churches, look us right in the eye, tell us that we should be more “tolerant”, more “Christian” and accept that these things are just OK. We can’t, and in a world where faithful Christians are dwindling into a remnant, as in Elijah’s time, we are pressured by the world to conform to what others tell us we should do, to ignore what genuine Christian brothers and sisters are coping with and follow our own agenda.

Elijah was really at the end of his rope. In 1 Kings 15:29 Ahab has become King of Israel: “And Ahab the son of Omri did evil in the sight of the LORD, more than all who were before him.” (1 Kings 16:30) And the previous kings of Israel had done some real evil. If that’s not enough, of all the women he could have married and according to God’s direction he was supposed to marry an Israelite woman, he goes out and finds a woman who is the daughter of the king of the Sidonians, named Jezebel, who doesn’t worship Yahweh, and managed to pick the worst of the pagan “gods” Baal. To top it off Ahab supported Jezebel in her worship. We have plenty in the liberal church who, like Ahab, continue to talk Jesus, but are much more concerned with the world’s agenda, their own Jezebel, than Jesus’ and whether they admit it are worshipping their own Baals. It is hard as a faithful, Bible teaching/believing Christian to stay strong in what the Lutheran Church teaches, Law and Gospel, and to feel, like Elijah that you are a remnant. Elijah has picked up and run off to hide. Jezebel has made it perfectly clear that she is going to do what Elijah was led by God to do, to kill the priests of Baal that Jezebel had brought into Israel, a straight out violation of God’s covenant with Israel “Thou shalt have no other gods before me.” There are a lot of caves in Israel, if you want to hide, you can find a place in Israel to do it, if you’re living in a cave as Elijah’s done, he is clearly hiding in fear. While he is cowering in his cave, in fear of Queen Jezebel, God calls him, “what are you doing here, I didn’t tell you to run off to here.” Elijah is convinced that he has been left completely on his own and tells God: “ESV 1 Kings 19:10 “I have been very jealous for the LORD, the God of hosts. For the people of Israel have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword, and I, even I only, am left, and they seek my life…” God answered him in one of the most poignant verses in the Bible, a demonstration of His power, but in “the sound of a low whisper” God asks Elijah again and Elijah gives Him the same answer. God is not going to let Elijah just cower in a cave, Elijah, as all of us, has a responsibility to stand up to the evil that we see all around us. God gives him an assignment to carry out, booting Elijah out of the cave and focusing him on the fact that he, and all of us, are responsible to stand strong for God and carry out the responsibilities He gives us. But God also gives Elijah reassurance: “ESV 1 Kings 19:18 Yet I will leave seven thousand in Israel, all the knees that have not bowed to Baal, and every mouth that has not kissed him.” Seven thousand men is not very many in a nation that had at least hundreds of thousands, perhaps over a million. But it is still a faithful remnant.

In the theme of stewardship and Elijah we can feel as if we’re being minimized and marginalized in our society today, feeling as if there are fewer and fewer genuine Christians, as if we might somehow be out of step. But we have to go back to our baptism, to the vows we took as members of this church and for your pastor the additional vows he took to be a minister of the Gospel, that we take the true Body and Blood of Jesus Christ to strengthen us in our body and spirit, to strengthen our relationship with God the Father, to trust in the preached word of Scripture. It is difficult and will cause us to feel like we want to run and hide, or accommodate those who want us to accept a false gospel, a humanist paradigm. We have to keep focused on God’s power and  “… the sound of a low whisper” “the still small voice” in the KJV version, that is God telling us that we aren’t alone, that in Jesus the Holy Spirit is always watching over us and guiding us even when we feel like Elijah “…and I, even I only, am left and they seek my life…” We aren’t, we are in the presence of the all powerful Creator, Sustainer and Savior of all creation.

The peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. Amin and Shalom

[1] Brad Hewitt CEO Thrivent Financial Services “Your New Money Mindset” p 79

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